First published in 1925 in the short story collection In Our Time, "Cat in the Rain" is a masterpiece rife with symbolism and meaning. The central characters are an American couple at a hotel in Italy, ex-patriots like so many of Hemingway's subjects. It is raining, and the husband, George, is lying on the bed reading, while his wife looks out the window. There is a cat outside, trying to keep dry, and the American wife announces her intention of going to get it. Her husband offers to do it for her, but he does not get up from the bed; he does not really mean it. Determined, the wife goes down to the lobby, where the hotel owner rises and bows to her. The author emphasizes that the American wife likes the hotelkeeper.
The wife ventures outside but is stopped by the rain. A maid, sent by the hotelkeeper, holds an umbrella for her. The cat is gone, and the wife exclaims that she wanted a cat so much, revealing that her concern is more for herself than the cat. She returns to their room and complains to George how much she wanted the cat, and says, "It isn't any fun to be a poor kitty out in the rain." Her husband ignores her, and the woman, looking in the mirror, asks him if she should grow her hair out. He tells her he likes it as it is, short like a boy's, indicating the lack of passion in their union. The wife then begins to lament her many wants and needs, but her husband coldly tells her to "shut up." There is a knock on the door; it is the maid, again sent by the hotelkeeper. She has brought a big cat "for the Signora."
The story presents the American couple as emotionally barren, isolated by their own self-absorption. The husband is unconcerned with his wife's malaise, never rising from his supine position on the bed, and even growing angry when she attempts to express her desires. The wife is nameless; shunned by her husband and lacking a sense of self-hood, she is like the "poor kitty out in the rain." It is significant that the hotelkeeper is more attuned to the American wife's desires and more willing to do what it takes to fulfill them than either the woman herself or her husband. Neither of them is willing—physically or symbolically—to go out into the rain.